David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Mercy Mercy Me (The Academy)

August 27, 2018

At 9:55 this morning, after listening to SMC's President deliver a College Update, I spoke to faculty about the current state of higher education in this country and what SMC is doing to try and combat the marketplace, student place, and regulatory place that all 4-year institutions exist within.  I started with some examples of how tough it is right now for America's colleges and universities.  The recurring message from both the President and myself is that it is an incredibly competitive market right now.

I probably should have read this morning's Inside Higher Ed before I started.  I knew it was a bleak landscape, but apparently cutthroat can be added as a descriptor now also.  Mercy College in New York is accusing Long Island University of stealing its students. Apparently a former dean of Mercy used confidential information to lure these former students after he took a job at LIU. 

First off, an unscrupulous dean? Surely you jest.  Sounds like I have the plot for my sequel to It's All AcademicIt's All Fair in Love and Academics.  However, I have been accused, in the Chronicle of Higher Ed of all places, of dumping on poor deans by killing the unscrupulous one in It's All Academic.  Maybe I should slightly change the facts: how about an unscrupulous college coach?

That's really where this story is so surprising.  This story should be about a football or basketball coach luring students when he or she job hops.  Of course, the NCAA tries to regulate that for student-athletes. Not sure they want to get into that business with scholar-students (and it's sad that I had to make that distinction), but the whole point is to try and get these potential honors students.

Truly gifted college students are rarer now than they used to be.  They may have as much capital as the 6'3" tough-as-nails quarterback who can throw 50 yards on a dime or the 6'8" power forward who can put up triple doubles routinely. And in this case, Mercy believes it lost to LIU 9 such studs out of a pool of 42 that were ready to join the Mercy Honors Program. If Michigan had lost 21% of its best recruits to Ohio State as a result of one coach leaving the former to go to the latter . . . that would get some major headlines (and probably Urban Meyer a 3-second suspension, given OSU's record now on redressing issues within their football program).

It used to be that unscrupulous recruiting practices were relegated to the for-profit world (see my December 5, 2014, blog "From Sheepskin to Fishnet" about FastTrain College's use of strippers to recruit students).  Clearly the environment is competitive enough that the highly regarded Long Island University will resort, allegedly, to slimy tactics to fulfill their enrollment quotas.

The truth of the matter is that college admissions at the highly selective colleges may have always been a little sketchy.  We are only recently discovering some of the borderline ethical actions.  Harvard has been accused of "penalizing" Asian-American applicants.  The University of Illinois was found to use unethical admission practices to admit students based upon favoritism (usually political or financial ties).  When schools with brands as well defined as Harvard and Illinois resort to these practices, we must accept that the competitive landscape is consuming us whole.  The good thing is that for the majority of us somewhere at the base of the ivory tower we don't have to use subterfuge. We will pretty much take anybody.

As Marvin Gaye sang, "Oh, mercy, mercy me/oh, things ain't what they used to be."